We have been to Taiwan a couple of times prior to this visit, but we never got pass the airport doors. Taipei for transit is quite a common thing. It is not surprising, since Taoyuan International Airport is the world’s 5th busiest airport in terms of international freight traffic.
Our recent visit was in conjunction with the 2016 Taiwan Lantern Festival, courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau Office in Kuala Lumpur, which invited us to attend this wonderful festival that is already in its 27th year running. A week in Taiwan sounds like a nice holiday, doesn’t it? We are pleased to find out that Malaysia has the most number of visitors to Taiwan among the South East Asian countries. Our trip to Taiwan made us understand why this is so, and we are more than happy to share with our readers some ideas to when travelling in Taiwan.
Though English is not widely spoken in Taiwan, the Taiwanese are very helpful. The country and its people remind us so much of Japan, with exemplary cleanliness and hospitality. Taiwan is indeed delightful and we will definitely return!
Taiwan At A Glance
- Taiwan is only a four-hour and a half flight away from Kuala Lumpur
- Taiwan is in the same time zone as Malaysia
- Currency: New Taiwan Dollar (NT$ 100 = approximately RM13)
- Taiwan enjoys the four seasons climate:
- Spring is March to May
- Summer is June to August
- Autumn is September to October
- Winter is November to February
It does not snow in Taiwan, perhaps only at the highest peaks. Taiwan, however, is blessed with rain. It could get very windy (and cold!), so bring a raincoat or a windbreaker and umbrella!
- Free Wi-Fi is easily available at most places of interest, restaurants and hotel
Taiwan Lantern Festival
Every year, this event is held at different places to mark the end of the last day of the Lunar New Year celebration. For 2016, it is Taoyuan City’s turn to play host. The festival starts on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunar calendar. The purpose of the festival is to keep the tradition alive and also promote it at local and international level. And what a great festival it was!
A festival is never complete without food! There were hundreds of foodstalls selling Taiwan’s much loved gastronomic delights like the stinky tofu, beef noodle, bubble tea, bao and dumplings that visitors could simply feast on. It was also interesting to see that some of the food in Taiwan is similar like the ones back home such as the apam balik, sugarcane drink and oyster omelette. We almost thought that we were back home when suddenly the cold temperature brought us back to reality!
The festival ground covers 32 hectares with six exhibition areas. The officials recorded that an average of 120,000 visitors come to the festival daily. About 200,000 visitors were present during the opening ceremony, which was attended by Taoyuan City Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan, along with President Ma Ying-jeou and Premier Chang Shen-Cheng. We were honoured to be invited to this prestigious event, and even more so, when we get to sit on the main stand during the Opening Ceremony. There was spectacular fireworks display that marked the opening of the festival, involving the ignition of 19,000 fireworks that lasted for 8 minutes.
The Taiwan Lantern Festival is indeed a big event that even The Discovery Channel deems it to be one of the best festivals in the world! We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly – looking at the faces of all attendees, young and old, they looked like they really had a wonderful time too! The event is a great outing for the whole family, especially the children.
What We Ate
We love the variety of Taiwanese food; however, being Muslims, there are limitations to what we could consume. Though Muslims are a minority in Taiwan, there are various restaurants that offer halal menu that carries the Halal status, certified by the Chinese Muslim Association in Taiwan.
- Tea Rice Resort
This restaurant serves delicious halal hotpot (steamboat) meals, which includes seafood and vegetables grown in the Yilan County. Dipping sauces are imported from Malaysia to ensure its halal status.
- Guan Xiang Century Hotel
We stayed in this hotel for a night and thoroughly enjoyed the natural hot spring water bath in the room! We had wonderful dinner after a long day exploring Yilan County. Fresh seafood, delicious lamb chop and Portuguese egg tarts made our tummies really happy that night.
- Toucheng Leisure Farm
We spent a night at this Farm and had lots of fun exploring it with some DIY activities! The food was superb, all vegetables are organically grown on site. All of the plates and utensils for halal dishes bear halal stickers on it, so we can tell that the management takes extra care for their Muslim guests’ dining requirements. Our favourite dish during dinner was the black pepper beef, which was succulent and fresh. For breakfast, we were served with congee alongside many condiments. It was a nice change from our usual hotel breakfast.
Where We Went
- Taipei 101
Standing at 101 floors, it was the world’s tallest building when completed in 2004 until Burj Khalifah stole the position in 2009.
Operation hour: Open daily from 9 am to 10 pm
Admission fee: NTD $500
- Elephant Mountain
Catch the breathtaking panoramic view of Taipei from the top of the mountain. Caution: Steep stairs all the way up!
- Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
Learn about a very important leader of Taiwan, Chiang Kai Shek. Do not miss the Change of Guards ceremony that happens every hour on the hour, 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
Opening hours: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm
- Daxi Old Street, Taipei
Look out for the beautifully preserved shopfronts.
- Jiufen Old Street, New Taipei City
Enjoy leicha (traditional Hakka tea-based drink) at a café called Siidcha here. Look for A-mei Teahouse, which inspired the location for the animated Japanese movie, Spirited Away.
- Jinshan Old Street, New Taipei City
This street is famous for roasted duck, sold at one of the shops. Freshly baked goods are aplenty too!
- National Centre for Traditional Arts
Check out the temple and museum here. There is also a live stage performance.
Opening hours: Open daily from 8 am to 6 pm.
- Yehliu Geopark
Home to a number of unique geological formations including the iconic “Queen’s Head”, this geopark is located along a cape stretching out from the town of Wanli. Prepared to be amazed by nature!
- Yangmingshan National Park
The park was formed by volcanic eruption that produced the Datun Mountains. It is also the nearest national park from the city. Come during spring and see flowers bloom in their full glory.
Opening hours: 9 am to 430 pm, closed on the last Monday of each month
- National Palace Museum
The world’s greatest and rarest collection of ancient Chinese artefacts, crafts and historical documents can be found here. Over 700,000 items are on display, many of which once belonged in Beijing’s Forbidden City.
What We Made
- Lavender Mini Pillow at Ta Shee Blooming Oasis
Ta Shee Blooming Oasis is a 16-hectare flower garden, the largest in North Taiwan. The highlight of this flower park is its sea of flowers – when in full bloom, this garden is a favourite marriage proposal spot for couples in love!
There are a few DIY projects available at its DIY centre, and we get to make a lavender mini pillow! It was a simple but fun process, and we were pleased with the end result.
- Bipang at Tea Rice Resort
Yilan County, where this Resort is located, produces rice. Naturally, various rice products were invented and consumed throughout the years. We had a hand at making bipang, a sweet snack made from puffed rice mixed with syrup. It was delicious!
- Gold Panning at the Gold Museum
Let it be known that the Gold Museum is actually a huge area, with a few buildings and a mine just waiting to be explored! Be prepared to do a lot of walking and stair-climbing. This was a fun excursion for us, despite the rain and constant walk. We get to put on hard hats and walk into an actual gold mine. Best of all, we were taught how to pan for gold, and we get to bring home some gold specks!
- Sky Lantern at Toucheng Leisure Farm
This was our favourite activity! We were given a few sheets of paper and taught by our host on lantern-making techniques. After writing our wishes on the lantern, it was lit up and in no time, the hot air lifted our sky lantern into the air and drifted it off into the night sky, which was indeed a beautiful sight!
- Learning about traditional Hand Puppets at See-Join Puppet Theatre
This is a dinner theatre show with live interaction with the puppetmaster. This charming little restaurant probably could only fit 20 people, so make sure you reserve your place in advance to enjoy the experience. We totally love it!